Thursday, February 24, 2011

New Podcast: Richard Boddington On Directing

As the official podcast of this site, Considering the Sequels is a monthly film podcast that examines the merits and weaknesses of specific movie franchises. But the bonus episode we just posted varies from our usual format and gives us the opportunity to discuss the job description of a director and the industry phrase “execution dependent,” while comparing and contrasting “The Cave” and “The Descent.”

Listen to this episode here:


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Batoru rowaiaru (aka Battle Royale)

by Jason Pyles

In late March, the official podcast of this site — the Considering the Sequels podcast — will have a bonus episode on “Extreme and Shock Cinema.” (We’ll post it at in April.) We’re going to investigate the morality, utility and social repercussions of filmmaking that graphically depicts the dregs of human depravity. Our discussion won’t be for the faint of heart, so be ye warned.

Though comparatively mild it may be, the infamous Japanese film, Batoru rowaiaru — aka “Battle Royale” (2000) still falls upon the fringes of this extreme, macabre film movement.

Reading from the Internet Movie Database’s plot description, “In the future, the Japanese government captures a class of ninth-grade students and forces them to kill one another under the revolutionary ‘Battle Royale’ act.”

So what you’ve got here, is a dystopian society, of sorts, where military-types gather a group of 14-year-old kids into a room and explain that they have to engage in mortal combat, in an every-man-for-himself, last-man-standing fight to the death. And to illustrate their seriousness, the military instructors kill a kid or two in front of their classmates to demonstrate that the same fate will surely befall them if they don’t participate.

So, these kids must fight or die, with the objective to kill every last person — even friends, love interests and siblings. No mercy. The solitary winner will be set free. Each child is given a small “kit” that includes one weapon. These weapons vary in their utility. Some “weapons” really aren’t weapons at all. And most of the kids aren’t natural-born killers, though they must learn quickly or else.

The violence is fairly graphic, which is unsettling, since the perpetrators and victims are so young.

You might have guessed that, upon its release, this film instantly became a cult classic. And really, it is “a trip” to watch. It’s a little hard to believe your eyes sometimes. It’s just so weird.

As I’ve thought about “Battle Royale” and other entries of extreme cinema, I’ve noticed that these films and the milder horror genre, in general, reduce down to two primal elements: fear and sorrow.

Through myriad illustrations of unthinkable violence, extreme cinema and the horror genre are fueled by intense fear and profound sadness. Now, these movies aren’t for everyone. I’m personally not even into regular horror movies, really — let alone shock cinema. But there is no denying that there is an enthusiastic audience for such filmmaking.

So, speaking about that audience from a place of curiosity and not condemnation — what is it about the human condition that draws so many people to become fascinated by the aspects of life that we instinctively tend to avoid the most — fear, sorrow and death? (The only one I didn’t mention here was “fire,” but many of these films also use fire to great effect, as well.)

This is something we’ll explore in our podcast, we hope, in non-judgmental terms. But in short, I think when it comes to viewing taboo atrocities — such as ninth-graders being forced to kill one another — we are so hard-wired to steer clear of such things, having been raised by “proper society,” that we are paradoxically drawn to them. It’s that age-old principle, if you want someone to press the red button, all you have to say is, “...and under no circumstances whatsoever — whatever you do — don’t press this red button.” At that point, we simply have to press the red button. We must, and we do.

Many, perhaps most, humans have a morbid curiosity and fascination with the macabre because those things are so far outside our circle of daily, monotonous experience.

And I guess in some, sick way, “Battle Royale” serves as some kind of twisted wish-fulfillment: I mean, if we’re perfectly honest with ourselves, who among us didn’t have at least one person in junior high that we would have liked to knock off?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Top Secret!

by Jason Pyles

OK. So this is how it happened. This is why I chose “Top Secret!” (1984) to review for this site. In the rec room (where did I get that archaic term?) of a house where I used to go for band practice, someone had the DVD for “Top Secret!” lying around. I kept seeing it there, week after week, and the floating cows wearing boots always got my attention. I asked my friend Jeff Bryner, in a condescending tone, “What’s this?” And after flipping out that I hadn’t seen it, he said, “Hey, don’t judge a movie by its cover — you will laugh your head off during this movie. I guarantee it.”

A few years later, I still remembered that exchange and reasoned from the DVD cover alone that surely this must be an unusual film, so I chose it for this site — not realizing that it was one of those spoof-parody movies.

Even so, Jeff was partially right. “Top Secret!” has some pretty funny parts, but I still don’t think it was a worthy pick for our lofty purposes here ... but then, we’ve also discussed things like “Urban Menace” and “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man” on this blog, too.

Released in 1984 and having three directors, “Top Secret!” stars a young Val Kilmer. As near as I could tell, this movie is “Airplane!” (1980) meets “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964). It’s an apt comparison, especially since it was made by the same people who made the former. But despite its charms, “Top Secret!” really isn’t in the same ballpark as the latter.

Val Kilmer plays Nick Rivers, a Beach Boys-like American pop-singing icon who has been commissioned to perform at an East German festival, where an evil, German, world domination-type plot is afoot. Unlike other more recent spoof movies, “Top Secret!” actually has a story — and isn’t just a number of random, pop-culture sight gags strung together. (The excruciating works of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer — as well as Shawn Wayans and Marlon Wayans — have been a blight on moviedom the past 10 years.)

The highest praise I can give “Top Secret!” — meaning, if you’re going to watch it, then this is why you should — is that it defies your expectations right and left, every step of the way. To me that’s where the humor of this movie comes from. It’s silly humor, which I usually don’t go for now that I’m no longer 14 years old, but this silly humor almost always comes as the result of an expectation-defying surprise.

Now that I think back to it, “Top Secret!” is actually pretty funny. I laughed more than I usually do during a comedy — and I’m tough on comedies. So, maybe Jeff Bryner was right, after all. You can’t judge a movie by its cover.